The much anticipated Eurovision song contest is now in full gear. The international singing contest began on 14 May and will continue through the weekend.
This time around, the heavily lauded event has a unique location in the Middle East: Israel’s economic and cultural center Tel Aviv.
Israel gained notoriety vis-a-vis the Eurovision contest last year when Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the 2018 event held in Lisbon. For decades, the Eurovision has been held in the home country of the previous year’s winner. While this year’s Eurovision should ideally transpire with the same cultural-interest coverage as any other event of its genre, anything connected to Israel these days tends to get “special” treatment.
Months before the contest began, efforts to boycott the event were put into place by Israel’s detractors. The international Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement declared the contest was an attempt to “artwash” Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. “Eurovision is part of Israel’s official strategy to distract attention from its war crimes against Palestinians,” declared BDS.
The attempts to organize the boycott were met with mostly opposition by the performing arts community. Late last month several celebrities including Stephen Fry, Sharon Osbourne, Marina Abramović, and pop mogul Scooter Braun signed a petition speaking out against the proposal. Their letter stated that Eurovision’s “spirit of togetherness” across the continent is “under attack by those calling to boycott Eurovision 2019 because it is being held in Israel, subverting the spirit of the contest and turning it from a tool of unity into a weapon of division.” As the contest approached, other artists came out with similar sentiments. In response to demands she cancel her planned participation at the event, Madonna produced a statement vowing to perform. “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda,” the singer said.
There is a basic point here these artists are highlighting. Regardless of one’s political opinions, art and culture should transcend any particular issue. Those advocating a boycott of this year’s Eurovision are essentially positing that the Jewish state is so evil, so irredeemably wicked, that any engagement is illegitimate. Unfortunately, this is a position that is becoming increasingly more in vogue.